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Friday, April 28, 2017, 17:32

Construction of manned space station starts 2019

By Agencies

Construction of manned space station starts 2019
A guard stands at a gate to the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, southern China's Hainan Province on April 20, 2017 . (Fred DUFOUR / AFP)

BEIJING - China will begin construction of a permanent manned space station in 2019 after carrying out a successful in-orbit refuelling from its Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft, officials leading the project said on Friday.

China plans to conduct several manned space flights between 2019 and 2022, during which time the 60-tonne space station will be assembled and built, said Wang Zhaoyao, director of China's manned space program office, Friday.

"Tianzhou-1, China's first cargo spacecraft, was the last flight mission of the country's manned space program before the construction of a permanent space station," Wang said at a press conference.

The spacecraft and Tiangong-2 space lab completed their first in-orbit refueling late Thursday, marking the completion of the country's space lab mission. The successful five-day refuelling, directed from technicians on Earth and completed on Thursday, is a key milestone toward China's plans to begin sending crews to a permanent space station by 2022.

"The successful conclusion of the mission shows that China's manned space program has entered the space station era," Wang said.

"The space station program has been progressing steadily with its key technologies and plans already completed and its relevant flight products being tested," he said. "Chinese astronauts are preparing for the space station era. They are expected to stay in space for three to six months or even longer during future missions."

Two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, completed their 33-day journey, the longest mission in the country's manned space program to date, onboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft on Nov. 18 last year.

The space station project's supervisor Wang Zhaoyao announced this Friday at a news briefing in Beijing

Wang said the astronauts would be engaged in more extra-vehicular activities during the construction of the space station, which could pose challenges.

"After completing experimental stage spaceflight missions, we will enter the development and construction phase. According to our plans we will carry out the assembly and construction of China's manned space station between 2019 and 2022," Wang said.

President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China's space program to strengthen national security. The Central Military Commission, chaired by Xi, sent a letter congratulating staff of the Tianzhou-1 mission for "realising our unremitting space dream", according to the official Xinhua news agency.

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